There are great sequels, there are poor sequels, and then there are sequels that make you entirely realize the non-necessity of their existence while still not entirely boring you. As you might surmise, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows fits somewhat uncomfortably into that last category. It is a movie that seems to simply take for granted that its audience will follow along with it and be excited by its events, rather than justifying those expectations by actually delivering on the premise that sets up its plot, which sees one of literature’s great rivalries, between Holmes and his arch-nemesis Moriarty, borne out at last.
All of which is too bad, as 2009’s Sherlock Holmes, similarly directed by Guy Ritchie, was a flashy, bareknuckled brawl of a movie, but still at least had an interesting mystery to push it along, one which teased the possibility of supernatural goings-on while still developing semi-plausible scientific explanations for Holmes to deduce. It was not a film to think too hard about; it was intended simply to be an enjoyable ride, and achieved that aim.
Its sequel, however, mostly undoes whatever charm was established by its predecessor. Game Of Shadows finally brings the mysterious Professor Moriarty into play, and unravelling his plot is Holmes’ primary concern. Said plot is, without describing it overmuch, a sadly clichéd affair. It’s disappointing, then, that the film seems to want to keep the audience guessing about Moriarty’s motivations until fairly deep into its running time: when we’re left wondering about what exactly is going on for over an hour, we expect to hear something more profound than simply a declaration of “I like money.” The motivations for and consequences of Moriarty’s various crimes are simply left vague for the bulk of the film’s running time, which makes it difficult to actually feel compelled by them: we’re told that he’s the bad guy, and he certainly plays the part, but the film doesn’t attempt to do much to actually convince us of any motivation for him beyond mere mischief and murder until we’re almost beyond caring.
Part of that problem could be alleviated by a more engaging script for the film’s overextended first two acts, and if you were a tremendous fan of the interplay between Holmes and Watson in the first film, you’ll likely be able to coast along as fistfights are engaged in, explosions occur, well-dressed sets are destroyed, and Holmes begins piecing together the puzzle. Otherwise, you’re likely to be a bit wearied by Robert Downey, Jr.’s over-the-top, manic portrayal of a man whose primary virtue seems to be an inability to sit still. He's a gifted actor, and tremendously enjoyable in the right role, but his performance here is firmly on cruise control. The script, bizarrely written by the team behind the likewise disappointing Paper Man, doesn’t feature dialogue so much as incessant banter; the humor is more assumed than evident. (Oh, look! Holmes is riding a pony because he doesn’t like horses! This is where I laugh, right?)
And if the screenplay fails to impress in the specifics, the larger brushstrokes are likewise unimpressive. Holmes leaves the safety of London this go-round for a more pan-European adventure through the Continent (or, more accurately, heavily CGI-ed soundstages), on the trail of Moriarty. Moriarty, flatly played by Mad Men’s Jared Harris, never seems quite sure what to make of Holmes; he seems to welcome a bit of sparring with an intellectual equal, but then alternates between sending his mysteriously-procured army of mercenaries to kill him and simply chatting with Holmes over tea. A vague sense of threat is supposed to be incurred from Moriarty’s declarations of violent intent against newly-married Watson, but for them to be credible we’d have to actually consider Watson to be something more than a echo chamber for Holmes’ theories. Little effort is put into establishing any reason for Holmes to actually keep Watson around, let alone like him.
Even the parts of the film that should be enjoyable, namely Holmes’ deductions of the clues in the environment around him, often come across as more painfully ridiculous than entertainingly flashy. For example, at one point a bomb is set to detonate at a peace summit between Germany and France, which are attempting to stop a Moriarty-influenced world war from beginning. Moriarty also sends a sniper to a building nearby to shoot one of the delegates in the head. A delegate who happens to be standing next to the bomb when it detonates. “Of course! The bombing was intended to cover up this assassination!” says Watson. Makes sense, except for the fact that the man shot in his head was, well, standing next to a bomb that just exploded and killed everyone else in the room, too.
This is a frustrating movie, and one that seems like it should be more crowd-pleasing than it really is. There’s a breeziness to it that is probably intended to be charming, but comes across more as simply an indication that no one involved could be bothered to take their jobs seriously, whether in the plotting or the acting or the direction. Even Stephen Fry as Holmes’ brother Mycroft is given little to do; Noomi Rapace, taking suspiciously high billing for a relatively minor role as a gypsy, simply pops up in the film when it’s convenient for her to do so, then disappears when Holmes and Watson are in mortal danger. Rapace is done no favors by the part, which is simply excised from the film at its climax, about which the less said the better.
It’s difficult to call Game Of Shadows lazy, because obviously a great deal of effort was put into every facet of its production (especially in the costuming and set design), but at the same time that production services a script that is mostly nonsensical. There’s a slickness here that is unmistakable, but the on-screen images also have a curiously bleached feeling to them, as if color was an unknown concept before the turn of the 20th century. One of the more entertaining parts of the first film, Holmes’ analysis of the fistfights he’s engaging in and attempts to find a way to win them before they begin, returns with an enjoyable panache, popping up enough times to bring a smile without feeling overused. The various interplays between Holmes and Moriarty, especially their final conversation, do manage to overcome their surroundings and achieve some level of entertainment, even if we’re perpetually curious as to why Moriarty doesn’t just shoot Holmes in the head and be done with it.
Game Of Shadows just isn’t a film that works, although it certainly seems to be convinced that it does. You can coast by on the explosions and gunshots and snappy repartee, should you desire to do so, but those feel like side dishes that have replaced a meal that’s sadly absent. The film’s version of Europe may be in peril, but its insouciant attitude and lackluster plotting makes it difficult to imagine why any of its inhabitants would care.
Trailer 2: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows
The original cut of this film was only 70 minutes long, but there's so much slo-mo it'll wind up being 110 minutes in the theaters. True story.
Trailer: Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows
I'm not sure if there's going to be any time for detective-ing between all these explosions.
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|Name||Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows|
|US Release||Dec. 16, 2011|
|UK Release||Dec. 16, 2011|
|AUS Release||Dec. 25, 2011|
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